Kingston Passes 2016 Budget, After Much Haggling
The Kingston Common Council approved the 2016 budget Tuesday night, but only after amending the mayor’s original proposal, which contained deep cuts from several key staff positions. The final changes recently authorized by the Finance and Audit Committee, included restoration of the city clerk and corporation counsel’s employee salary lines.
After four hours of debate, the modified budget was approved by a 7-2 margin, with aldermen Brian Seche and Nina Dawson dissenting. At the bottom line remained expenditures totaling $40.8 million. This represents a levy increase of 4.13 percent for residential and 3.41 percent for commercial; which come to an extra $61 for homeowners, and $90 for business per year, per $150,000 assessed value.
One position which did not escape the chopping block, however, is the job of environmental program operations specialist, currently held by Steve Noble, the mayor-elect. The issue drew much deliberation, both during public comment and later on the legislative floor.
Opponents to the austerity cut argued that lame duck Mayor Shayne Gallo used the proposed budget as personal retribution for his political upset and primary election defeat. Furthermore, such measures impede after-school reading programs, fueling the school-to-prison pipeline (mass incarceration), critics alleged.
"I think it's an improvement over the proposed budget," said Noble.
A more conservative sentiment prevailed eliminating Steve Noble’s vacated position, and replacing it with a part-time aide. The last-minute adjustments effectively created $50,000 of wiggle-room for the incoming administration. Alderwoman Mary Ann Mills, who chairs the Finance Committee, recommended the aide compromise following the council’s 5-4 decision to axe Steve Noble’s old job.
Noble’s grant writing duties are now shifted back to Economic Development, a separate department, Mills explained.
“I’m not sure why you would still want to have a specialist program handled there, when those services are not being done there. We as taxpayers should not have to pay for duplicate work,” Mills argued. “I’m not against environmental issues; I’m not pitting one against the other [education versus environment].”
Alderwoman Deborah Brown agreed.
In the end, despite eloquent reasoning between both sides of the lengthy Parks and Recreation debate, votes fell along political lines, with advocates of keeping Steve Noble’s job representing the Noble faction on the common council, and the refuseniks hailing from “Team Gallo.” Sixth Ward alderman Tony Davis, newly elected, was the swing vote, switching his original mistaken decision later in the meeting, having been confused by the back-and-forth parliamentary deliberations and cross-motions.
Mayor-elect Steve Noble was glad the city now has a budget.
“I think it’s an improvement over the proposed budget,” said Noble. “They made some changes that I might not agree with, but I think that it’ll allow me to come to the council with my own ideas and my own plans. I look forward to working with the new council.” Mayor-elect Steve Noble was glad the city now has a budget.
Noble added he was unsure if, as newly elected mayor, he would use his administrative powers to restore the lost position. “I don’t know. We’re going to look at Parks and Recreation, and all the departments, to see what we need to do to meet the needs of the residents; that’s first and foremost, making sure we’re delivering high-quality services,” Noble said.
Asked if he would veto the budget, Mayor Gallo said recently that he would have to see the approved budget aftermath to know for sure.
“I have to look quite frankly what the other circumstances are, if they put other funding back in, took more fund balance,” Gallo said. “They’re going to play all kinds of games.”
Gallo added he would seriously contemplate a veto if the legislature received independent counsel -- which they did, calling the arrangement mind-numbing. “It would be good entertainment to see the uncle and the nephew [city council president James Noble, and Mayor Steve Noble] spar with their respective attorneys over different issues; see where it goes. Not to be facetious, the public deserves better,” Gallo said.
Also on Tuesday, the city council approved the capital plan; water and sewer budgets; increased penalties and fees in the fire department, which includes code enforcement; bonding for the city’s portion of the Greenkill Avenue trestle over Broadway; plus the tax levy, which was proportionally adjusted 20 percent to ease burden on businesses (non-homestead). The new levy proportion is 53.81727 residential versus 46.18273 commercial. The intended shift shall continue 20 percent each year following, until the rates become equal.